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Fleeing violence in Anglophone Cameroon, life in Douala is a different hardship

By Laura Angela Bagnetto
Posted on Monday, 20 April 2020 12:24, updated on Wednesday, 22 April 2020 12:17

Douala Cameroon
City scene in Doula, Cameroon on April 9, 2020 (Minette Lontsie - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons )

While the world is focusing on the coronavirus pandemic, this is a story that began in Anglophone Cameroon before the era of COVID-19 and continues on.

Emily*, 18, was a good student at school in Bamenda, in Anglophone Cameroon, excelling in science before the separatists forced the schools to close. She was looking forward to going to nursing school, until ‘that day’.

“What sort of nation is this?” she says she remembers screaming outside her home.

“Everybody was trying to run—my parents said I should stay inside [the house] with my grandmother,” says Emily, in perfect English. She was 17 at the time. Her parents ran outside to find out what was going on and were shot dead by the military, right in front of her.

“Violence literally hit her front door”

She speaks without emotion, standing on a dirt patch behind a big hotel in the Bonaberri district of Douala, Cameroon’s French-speaking economic capital. She fled after the violence literally hit her front door, violence that began after security forces brutally quashed peaceful protests in 2017.

READ MORE: Moving towards a ceasefire in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions

“I ran outside crying,” says Emily, who could not understand how this could happen in Cameroon, in her Cameroon. “What sort of nation is this?” she says she remembers screaming outside her home.

She knows they were soldiers, the ones who shot her parents. They were wearing military uniforms. The two men saw Emily and grabbed her.

“As I was there, crying in front of my dead parents, they raped me.”

Fleeing into the bush with her grandmother, Emily did not realize she was pregnant. Her grandmother fell ill, and with no food or medical treatment, she died.

Emily made her way to Douala, where she is staying with her mom’s sister.

She is just one of thousands of Anglophones who have tried to escape the violence.

Crackdown met by separatists

According to the UN Refugee Agency, nearly 680,000 people are internally displaced in the North-West and South-West Anglophone regions. There are no numbers for IDPs in Douala, because they are not registered.

The security services “are shooting everywhere, killing people in front of us; we cannot have pity on them. They are so wicked.”

After the crackdown on Anglophone teachers and lawyers in 2017, who were demonstrating against alleged discrimination and unfair working practices enforced by the Francophone central government, an armed separatist movement arose.

READ MORE: Cameroon’s Anglophone regions hit by violence during partial legislative polls

They are currently fighting security forces after their self-declaration of independence for so-called Ambazonia, struggling for secession from French-speaking Cameroon.

Trauma lingers

In bustling Douala, Emily says she loves Harry, her two-month-old son, but is worried about how she will take care of him with no job or even a diploma.

And then there is all the trauma she is shouldering. “They all died in my hands,” she says.

Although most of the Anglophones The Africa Report spoke to in Douala feel safe enough not to fear being shot at, many carry heavy psychological trauma that does not dissipate with distance from the conflict.

Devin, 20, was exhausted from living in Bamenda.

As a young anglophone man, he was regularly targeted by the military as a suspected ‘Amba Boy’ separatist. While joining the Ambas did not interest him, he respects their political position; even if it put him in danger.

The security services “are shooting everywhere, killing people in front of us; we cannot have pity on them. They are so wicked,” he says. Wearing a ripped black t-shirt, he holds what looks like a folded piece of paper in front of him.

“My father, he is still in Bamenda. He was beaten. I have a picture,” he says, opening the folded photo away from him so he will not see what he knows is there: an older man, the skin on his back ripped apart, bloody.

Devin can’t talk any more. He runs off, crying, overcome with emotion, worried about his parents who remain in the North-West capital.

Douala: gunshots replaced by daily life

Some Anglophones escaped with very little money, others with only the clothes on their back. In Douala, gunshots are replaced by the hustle of daily life in Cameroon’s bustling economic capital, but the hardship continues.

The area that Emily, Devin, and other Anglophones in the same predicament are living in, is lined with wooden shacks near a stream that floods when it rains.

“In my village, I was living well,” says Zora, originally from Balingnonga in the North-West. That is, until government troops started parking by her house and shooting people outside her front door. They burned down her provision shop and everything inside.

They raise prices for goods in the market if they hear an Anglophone trying to communicate, calling them ‘Angloidiots’ or ‘Ambazonias’ for the name of the country separatists want to form.

“See this? In my village this is just a hut,” she says, pointing to the light blue rundown shack where her sisters live, cooking right next to the toilet. “This is where you would put pigs!”

Shop owner Patricia fled from Bamenda to Douala with her four children after security forces killed her husband.

The military also burned down her house and shop. She tries to get by from washing dresses and picking up bottles for recycling, and is reliant on the kindness of other Anglophones who are in the same situation: scrambling to find food or the means to buy food once a day.

“I don’t have any other clothes, they don’t have shoes,” says Patricia while wearing a faded dress and pointing to her barefoot children beside her.

Eight-year-old Princess begins crying when she mentions their father.

Francophone world, same country

If the emotional and economic strain was not enough, Anglophones are having difficulties living in a Francophone world– in the same country.

“I want to go back to the North-West because here, you have little money, and when you go to the market, people insult you, they know that you speak English,” says Patricia.

They raise prices for goods in the market if they hear an Anglophone trying to communicate, calling them ‘Angloidiots’ or ‘Ambazonias’ for the name of the country separatists want to form.

“When you speak French and make an error, instead of correcting you, they mock you. I don’t have any hope, I don’t have anything,” she says with a sigh.

*names have been changed for security reasons 

Laura-Angela Bagnetto is a journalist at Radio-France Internationale

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